Back to the TopicsThe   Sandal Bearer

In every age there were people in the history, whose origin were unknown - yet they appeared on the scene and started to form the flow of history with their bare hands. The most interesting ones are those, who were not on the top of the hierarchy, but directed the top ones.
They are brilliant minds of lively fate. The facts about them are rather hard to seize. It is even harder if the person lived 3450 years ago, and crossed the way of an outstanding ruler. This is why you will find more personal elements in this article. Do not accept everything automatically, but form your own conclusion as you wish. We talk about a brave man of his age, who deserved the honour of independent thoughts, even from the distance of three and half millennia.


'Who is this man?' asked lots of people, when our hero stepped on the stage and achieved more and more influence. 'What is his name?' asked the courtiers, who were always aware of their positions; always ready to arrange machinations for their own interest, looking suspiciously at the newcomer. And really: what is his name?

His name is here on the picture. Senenmut or Senmut - both readings could be right. Mut's brother's name has the transcription sn-n-mwt. The ancient Egyptians often wrote one or more glyphs after a hieroglyph of a syllable to ensure the correct reading, but it was not to pronounce, just to clarify the word. But it could be to pronounce, too, since both versions have their meaning. The difference is like the one between Mut's Brother and Brother of Mut. (The last glyph, the crouching figure shows that the word serves as a male's name.)

'But where did this man come from?' It could have been a frequent question, when people met Senenmut. Well, we do not know about his origin, neither do we know where he disappeared. Probably he came from a craftsman's family, and easily conceivable that he had the Pharaoh's Throne on his sight. We do not know where the house of his birth was, but we know two of his tombs, both unused. We do not know about his family, but, if our presumption is correct, he adored his only daughter, who was not else than Hatshepsut Maatkara's only child.

This brave man, wrapped into veils of contradiction, is the most impressive person (for me) in Kemet, who did not wear the Double Crown. He has thirty some titles including very special ones like Overseer of All Estates Of House Amun, Her Majesty's Sandal Bearer (which is a really high office as a kind of secretary, known from the predynastic ages, and needed no competence on footwear) and Fatherly Nurse (e.g. Tutor) of the Royal Princess - this latest is rather uncommon title. Furthermore, he has unusually numerous statues and it is also unusual how many of them survived. Some of them present him in the intimate company of the baby Nofrure (perhaps she died at the age of six or ten).

Any of such statues could be the beautiful allegory of fatherly love, all of them are beaming with the charm and loveliness of the baby girl and the pride of the father - or tutor, but... Well, let's stand out for the opinion, that Nofrure was begot by Amun-Ra himself, and never mind, whose clay he wore... On the other hand, those statues in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, that show Senmut with his chin laid on the top of Nofrure's head, make good basis for speculations, since this position means, "she is my child under my protection".

Sen - en - Mut  (male)= hieroglyphic form of Senenmut's name
sn-n-mwt (male)
The last glyph shows that the word served as a male name.

Senenmut and the few months old baby Nofrure
Senenmut and the baby Princess Nofrure, barely few months old. Father and Daughter?

Senenmut and Nofrure - one of the statues that made people think funny things...
Senenmut with Nofrure - another contradictional statue
Very special block statues of Senenmut and Nofrure. This position means: "She is my child under my protection"

However, the Sandal Bearer tried to express his fond relationship to the Queen and her daughter not only through his statues. The wise statesman was considered among the finest architects, too. He built marvellous mortuary temple for Hatshepsut: that temple at Deir-el-Bahri, which can be rivalled only by the Abu Simbel temples of Rameses II, and the Taj Mahal, as most sophisticated monuments erected for the Beloved One. It has majestic harmony with the surroundings, the proportions and rhythm set great aesthetic measure to the architects. The terraced, multi-level construction eliminates the depressing effect of the huge cliff wall just behind it a surprising and elegant way. This graceful solution stands without prefiguring, and was completely unknown for the Egyptian architecture, yet bears the signs of its best traditions, arranged for the genius loci - the spirit of the site. Its yards are the pompous terraces, where the eye can wander right down to Karnak and the narrow greening strip of kemet; its hypostyle halls are the pillared corridors of tranquillising rhythm, featuring great relieves to proclaim the glory of Amun and the Pharaoh; the naos, carved to the very stone and the park in front of the temple, conjured to the edge of the desert, are hymns for the Egyptian people who, applying the possibilities the gods had been given them, conquer the barriers of the impossible with delightful success. All these features are emphasized by Osiris-pillars of Hatshepsut, to show the Queen's honour to his Divine Father, Amun, by the grace of Amun the Saint of Saints (Amun Djeser Djeserew) temple. (Hatshepsut, to confirm her legitimacy to the throne, proclaimed her divine origin on an obelisk at Karnak Temple. According to its inscriptions, Amun appeared in his person to her mother and breed her to provide the Two Countries with appropriate ruler of divine origin.)

Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple at Deir el Bahri
Amun Djeser-djeserew - "Amon, Saint of the Saints"
Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple at Deir-el-Bahri

Hatshepsut, the greatest of the Queens. She is among the pharaohs who did the most for the Two Countries.

Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple from the first terrace
The mortuary temple viewed from the first terrace.

And even these were not enough to consume Senenmut's genius. He had numerous traces of his widespread education. Sorrowfully, my sources just mention only some papyri of the Sandal Bearer, but I failed to find out further details on them. These partly trustworthy, partly uncertain sources report serious mathematical essays, political decisions of great importance, and a complicated code writing which rather hard to solve. I was not able to verify them, yet they are partly confirmed by the astronomical ceiling found in Senenmut's secret tomb at Deir-el-Bahri (TT-353), and dates the tomb to the eve of 15th November, 1463 BC (according to studies by Christian Leitz, after the planets positions - Rolf Krauss and others doubt it because of slight differences in the positions of Mercury and Saturn, but this has no importance in our case).

Astronomical Ceiling of Senenmut's tomb - reconstruction
The astronomical ceiling found in the secret tomb of Senenmut. (Reconstruction)

Detail from the secret tomb. (TT-353)
Detail from the secret tomb.

Senenmut appeared first around the seventh regnal year of Hatshepsut, apparently from the clear blue sky. Every sign makes us think he was in very close relation with the Queen - either as her advisor, or they could have been lovers, we cannot know for sure. He had a huge tomb in Thebes, in a privileged place, which shows his increasing influence - but he had another, secret tomb at Deir-el-Bahri. The Queen and the eternity must infatuate him. His portraits appear at several, hidden places within the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut, and his secret tomb reaches sacrilegiously under the temple. This positioning enables him to take share of the offerings presented in the temple and deconsecrated the place. This secret tomb is outstanding also by its decorations. The aforementioned astronomical ceiling increases its importance, too. The motives of the tomb summon pharaonic tomb decorations, and certain parts could not appear in a private tomb at all. Even the precise construction is a great engineering achievement. This tomb has never been finished and never been used. But the other tomb is suspected to remain unused, too. Where was the Sandal Bearer buried? Probably he fell from grace - only the secret tomb provided enough reason for it - and he died in exile. A reasonable version of his story is told in Zsuzsa Ghyczy-Dráveczky's Woman on the Throne of the Pharaohs - we will refer to this marvellous book over and over again.

Senenmut's portrait from the astronomical ceiling of his secret tomb - Reconstruction
The Sandal Bearer's portrait from the astronomical ceiling of his secret tomb. This portrait helped Zsuzsa Ghyczy-Dráveczky to form his character for her book "Woman on the Throne of the Pharaohs"

Now let's see what can we find out about the Sandal Bearer from his statues?

Well, the first we can see that he was not so highly regarded in certain times. One of his cubic statues - see the picture on the right - has been intentionally mutilated on the face. Most probably Thutmosis III ordered to do it. He had every reason to consider Senenmut to be a foe, because the Sandal Bearer was central figure in the chess game Hatshepsut played against him.

On other statues we are looking at a unique man. His round face and strong cheeks show the typical marks of the Thutmoside sculpture, but his gazing look refers to a highly intelligent and agile person. His look glitter through the 'dead' stone itself! A sense of humour shines through the work, a sharp mind and a will of activity. What could he have achieved if he had lived in the quattrocento, or in the second half of the eighteenth century? It is worth comparing the statues of Hatshepsut, Thutmosis III and Senenmut. While Thutmosis reflects a kind of straight minded fanatics, Hatshepsut's warm and intelligent look shows a strong, charismatic woman of great empathy who literally feels and lives with her countries. Senenmut has doubts, he combines, scrutinizes his environment, and vibrates. He is full of tension. His praying statue pictures him not as the average reverential worshipper who looks for his God's grace but looks upward with curious honour: 'How would you do it? I will do better!' I do not think that he was an atheist but his religiousness is different from the usual Egyptian religious attitude. He does not worship and does not pray but wants to learn. He does not beg and swear but eager and procures. He is independent personality of his own rules, who compares himself to the deities and does not tolerate barriers but enjoys them as challenge. May he be the new Imhotep? (Imhotep was the architect of Djoser's Step Pyramid, considered as father of the stone-building who was deified eventually.) I do not think that Senenmut had this kind of ambition in his mind. He was more practical. I have to refer to Zsuzsa Ghyczy-Draveczky's book once again - she supposes that the Sandal Bearer wanted to be a co-ruler. Was he befuddled by power, or did he want to deserve the honour of his royal Beloved One? Those decorations at his secret tomb behoving royals only, let us suspect things like this. But I think not this is the real reason...

Look at his face! Hilarious, intelligent, yet childishly high-spirited he is. The flickers of his eyes glimmer through the cold stone of his statues, his look is gleaming with adoration and overflowing love to his little Nofrure. Perhaps he is not her father, but he thinks that he is. He has some childish energy in his spirit, does not he? And this man had always confronted the technical and social barriers of his age. Maybe he is a temporally misplaced soul who was to rival Leonardo (well, Leonardo had Michelangelo, they hated each other pretty much...) but his love and beloved daughter chained him to the 15th century BC?

It is not a scientific approach to state such things. We have not got any proof to suspect any special relationship between the Ruler and her Courtier. However if you ask for my personal opinion: it was love.

Senenmut's block statue - intentionally mutilated on the face.
One of Senenmut's cubic statues. The intentional mutilation on the face shows that he was out of grace and wanted to be erased from the history. Perhaps Thutmosis III ordered it to make him fail on the afterlife.

Az imádkozó Szenenmut
Praying Senenmut. "How would you do it? I will do better!"
It is easy to spot the marks where his names were carved out.

Granite statue of Senenmut and Nofrure. Presumably she died after her age of six or ten.


When we talk about persons who played major role in the forming of history, most of us talk about Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon or even Rasputin. I would start this list with Senenmut, the Sandal Bearer who formed the history of the New Kingdom, which already prospered of great names, to be blooming and peaceful while Hatshepsut, the greatest of the Queens ruled over the Two Countries. He worked to make Her Majesty's name to be remembered forever - even after this three and half thousand years. And after all those efforts of Thutmosis III to erase her aunt from the history - this is an outstanding result. The most desirable what an ancient Egyptian could wish at all.


If you have your opinion about Senenmut, Hatshepsut, Nofrure, or this topic in general, do not hesitate to share it on the Forum!


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